Continuing with our Bartender Banter series, this week we had a chat with Isabelle Vannoni, the bar manager of The Optimist. We talked about her adventures abroad, how they inspired her drinks, and how she ended up in this small but exciting city. Get the full scoop below the cut.

1) So what got you into bartending back in Italy?

My passion for bartending started in my hometown Florence back in 2007, I had to find a part-time job to pay my university fees and started as a waitress and bartender in Colle Bereto, one of the coolest spots in the city. I loved it instantly and the rest is history!

2) And how did you end up in Hong Kong, and ultimately at The Optimist?

I worked with Manuel Palacio Ramos, co-founder of The Optimist, back in London. He was assembling his team for his new project with his partner Christian Talpo and asked me to move out to Hong Kong to join them. They both really know what they are doing when it comes to launching a strong restaurant concept; they were so passionate about the project I didn’t hesitate for a second.

3) How does Hong Kong’s drinking scene compare to the ones at cities you’ve been at?

Although Hong Kong is a small city, especially compared to London, it has a great buzzy energy and is incredibly fast-paced. In just a few months I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of industry people and attend exciting new openings and tastings. The drinking scene is very vibrant with a big focus on new products and fresh innovative ideas which keeps you on your toes.

4) How do your travels relate to and change your concoctions?

Traveling has been always been a huge part of my life, and one of my favourite things to do when traveling is eating and drinking. I love to absorb and learn from the different cultures and flavours I come into contact with. My head is always bursting with ideas when I return home!

The trip that really opened my eyes to the exciting world of mixology and bartending was New York five years ago, when I walked into the speakeasy bar “Please don’t Tell” for the first time. Named one of the best bars in the world, the bar is hidden with an entrance through a vintage phone booth inside of a hot dog joint. As soon as you walk in, you can feel the electric energy and the drinks are on fire. I thought, "wow! This is really what it’s all about." It was there that I sipped on a perfect Boulevardier, which became one of my favorite drinks!

5) Your favorite cocktail to make vs. your favorite cocktail to drink? Why?

My favorite cocktail to make is an Old Fashioned. I like adding my own personal touch to the very classic cocktail. I like to use good bourbon, a lot of bitters and a touch of orange marmalade.

My favorite cocktail to drink has to be a good Gin and Tonic, Spanish-style in a large goblet chilled with ice. There is nothing better or more refreshing. At The Optimist we serve up 24 different types of G&T, chosen for their floral, herbal and distinct elements. They are hugely popular with Hong Kongers!

6) If you could, what’s the one drink you want everyone to stop ordering?

Long Island Ice Tea.

7) What’s a cocktail that you think would be perfect for the Hong Kong people?

Aperol Spritz, a simple but refreshing Italian aperitif, perfect after a long and hot day!

Quick fire questions:

Favourite liquor: Becherovka

Favourite restaurant in HK (apart from The Optimist!): Carbone

Favourite bar in HK: Lobster bar

Favourite club in HK: Stockton

One word to describe your concoctions: sexy!!

Drink for when you’re feeling down: Espresso martini

Drink for when you’re partying hard: Margarita

Drink for when you’ve had a long day: Negroni

Written by Karen Chiang

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